They Killed Brian!

RIP Brian Griffin

RIP Brian Griffin

Ok, so I go from Dick Gordon’s The Story going off air to a cartoon dog’s death on Family Guy. Hey, at least I have range.

Like most Family Guy fans, I’m completely distraught that Brian Griffin was axed off of my favorite adult cartoon. Family Guy has been a guilty pleasure of mine since it went on air back in 1999 and Brian the Dog was by far my favorite character. Who wouldn’t love a talking dog that drinks martinis and writes horrific novels? He also got the best lines in the show. Which brings me to why I like the show so much – the writing.

I can’t stand potty humor of which Family Guy is replete with, but when you put the slop through a figurative colander some really good juice comes out. The creator Seth MacFarlane is a brilliant writer and comedian and since he’s of my generation and comes from my home state, his pop culture references are totally relatable to me and bring back some great memories from my childhood. They once opened the show with the opening scene from The Great Space Coaster – I nearly bust a gut.

From what I understand, of all his characters Brian has the most characteristics of MacFarlane himself. I definitely see that and have watched both Brian and MacFarlane progress over the years. When Brian drank martinis, Seth drank martinis, when Brian switched to Scotch, Seth switched to Scotch. Brian is a tree hugging, pot smoking, Prius driving, womanizing Liberal and MacFarlane has never minced words on where he falls on the political and social spectrum and he’s rarely ever seen with the same woman. It was a very cool progression to watch – creator and character growing and becoming famous together.

The New Guy - Nothing Against Vinnie, But I want Brian Back

The New Guy – Nothing Against Vinnie, But I want Brian Back

I think from the brouhaha I’m reading in the news, blogs and on Facebook, Brian was certainly one if not, the most beloved character. So, why the hell would MacFarlane kill him off? I mean, this is a comedy after all, there’s no need to kill off a favorite character especially if he’s a cartoon dog. All I can think of is that it’s a “kill your darlings” situation. The producers said they wanted to “shake things up”. Well, they sure as shit have done that. A new dog “Vinnie” who also talks and has the voice and look of a New Jersey gangster voiced by former Sopranos star Tony Sirico, immediately replaced Brian. Kind of hacky, I think. I use the “kill your darlings” metaphor because I can’t help but wonder if MacFarlane is looking for a bigger challenge – like Brian was too easy to write, something like that.

I honestly don’t think this is going to work and cautiously predict a death knell for the show. Seth MacFarlane has made it no secret that he feels Family Guy should have jumped the shark five seasons ago, but insists on giving the fans what they want for as long as they want it. But, I have to wonder – is this what they want? I don’t. I want Brian back.

Farewell Dick Gordon – The Story Will be Missed

Dick Gordon - The Story

Dick Gordon – The Story

For the past month or so, I’ve been whining about Dick Gordon ending his APM production Dick Gordon’s: The Story. And, the fact is I’m already mourning it and the show has only been off air for a few days. Dick Gordon did something I find masterful and can totally relate to; he kept silent, letting his guests tell the story. Only prompting in between his questions when it was absolutely necessary, often creating huge amounts of dead air – something that goes against everything radio is about. Dead air is a death knell in radio, but Dick made it an art form. Not only did it force his guests to keep talking to fill the silence, it also created a cadence steeped in suspense for the listener.

In this modern world full of images, noise and cool technological devices aimed at grabbing our attention, Dick was able to create a sphere in which we happily used the mind in rapt unison with our ears to engage and be entertained by the stories of people from all walks of life. No images, no background score to intensify the mood, just great personal experiences told through the art of the spoken word. Oftentimes, I would listen to Dick in the car and would pull over because I found myself so captured by the story. A lot of times, I ended up going ten or twenty miles out of my way by accident!

There are far too few quality story-telling outlets on radio these days. At least, not the way Dick did it. Ira Glass does a great job with This American Life, but it’s not presented in the same casual free flowing manner like The Story. Certainly, a lot of people would say radio is dead anyway and that’s an understandable attitude given how interactive and personalized our entertainment choices have become. But, I think it’s sad. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, maybe it’s because I’m becoming a curmudgeon, but I like being able to create scenes in my head to the words of someone else’s experiences. Even though I’m a visual guy by and large, having the option of being able to see someone else’s interpretation of a scene and creating my own has always been important to me. However, if the quality of radio programs isn’t there, then the landscape is barren and radio will die. That’s a horrible thought. Sure, you can buy a la carte on Sirus/XM or whatever other satellite feed becomes available. But what fun is that? Chasing content all over the radio dial is what makes the ultimate end so much more satisfying. (That’s definitely the aging curmudgeon talking right there.)

Last summer, Dick produced a series of authors reading their short stories on air. I was really entranced by a Ron Rash story Something Rich and Strange. This story, told by its author on air; to me, is far more gripping than it is on the written page. It’s 12 minutes long, but you have to listen to it. It will grab you. Here it is:

http://www.thestory.org/stories/2013-07/something-rich-and-strange

Dick has over two thousand stories on his website that the program produced during its time on air. I would highly recommend spending some time perusing through and enjoying his talent in bringing real, solid, interesting entertainment to your ears.

I Wish Robert Evans Was an Author

Robert Evans as Kid Notorious

Robert Evans as Kid Notorious

Ok, so technically Robert Evans is an author and I bet if he saw that tagline he’d defend his position as a published author by going into a huge self-aggrandizing yet bitingly self deprecatory explanation about all the success his book The Kid Stays in the Picture: A Notorious Life has had over the years. In fact, in his words: there has never been a more outrageous and unforgettable Hollywood memoir ever written. And, that’s why I wish he were an author.

Robert Evans is one of the best storytellers of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Of course, all his stories are about himself, but they are fantastically woven into spellbinding accounts of Hollywood through his ever-present sunglasses. There has to be a lot of fiction laced in with his actual experiences – there just has to be. In lots of ways I compare him to Hunter S. Thompson – so over the top there’s no way it can all be true. But, we, the public don’t seem to care. We remain fascinated by people like Bobby and Hunter. Their outrageousness is so compelling they just cannot be ignored.

Just imagine if all that energy Evans used to create his public persona were directed towards fiction. I’ll bet Bob Evans could really pump out a great fiction piece if he had wanted to. Imagine all the material he would have to work with just based on his own career. All that actual Hollywood drama that could be exaggerated into gripping tales of everything we love to read about; sex, power, glamour, money, betrayal, Hollywood – shit, a treasure trove of ideas right there to be hammered down and forged into timeless stories that surely would pass seamlessly through the ages.

Here’s where I think the problem would lie; Evans wouldn’t be able to break out of himself. The man has been so caught up in himself all these years there’s no way in hell – to him anyway, there could possibly be a more interesting character than himself. Most authors will grudgingly admit under interrogation that a little bit of themselves resides in each of their characters. But, when you have a personality as robust as Bob Evans’s, I could see where it would be hard to create anybody even close to as interesting as himself. Maybe that’s ok, perhaps I’ve missed something here; Robert Evans’s world and his recounting of it could be all we need.

Insight from Anne Rice

Anne Rice

Anne Rice

I got lucky yesterday. I follow Anne Rice on Facebook not just because she’s one of my favorite authors, but also because she engages her fans and speaks directly to them. I think that’s really admirable and I enjoy getting insight into her personality and process.

So, yesterday Anne posted a link to an obituary for Syd Field. Field wrote what became known as the Screen Writers Bible back in early ‘70’s. I’ve heard of it but never read it. Anyway, here is what Anne posted on Facebook:

“In this obituary for Syd Field, there is much talk of his bible for screenwriters. Sounds like a book that might be an aid to novelists as well as those writing scripts. Comments welcome. I didn’t know Syd Field or know of him, but it sounds as if he made a very valuable contribution with his books; and surely many people will be ordering them today for the first time.”

I replied something to the effect that I couldn’t see how this book could aid me as it would probably change the tonality of my stories were I to follow it, but that I always try and make screen plays out of my short stories in case Hollywood ever calls. Lo and behold, she answered me! I was shocked and engaged her for another couple of posts. Here is how she replied:

“I don’t know about that. Sometimes these books can inspire. Years ago I read Aristotle’s formula for great drama — written for tragedy in Ancient Greece — and it inspired me mightily with my novel writing…something on the order of plot, character, spectacle — creating pity and catharsis. And voila. Interview with the Vampire.

I do think screen writing techniques can help a novel. One of the most popular novels I ever wrote — The Mummy or Ramses the Damned — started life as a long screenplay. I converted it into the novel in the space of a few weeks. The structure of my screen play — which was quite sloppy with notes and such — helped the novel to become a lightning read.”

First of all, I was in awe and amazement that I was actually conversing albeit electronically with the great author. If I were ballsier I would have tried to pitch 5 Tales, but I’m not like that anyway. I was just happy to glean any wisdom she was willing to impart.

I spent a lot of time yesterday thinking about what Anne said. My problem is I tend to be too technical when thinking about screenwriting as opposed to novel writing. The reason being as I’m writing, the scene is in my head but I’m less worried about characters’ stage direction, speech intonation, the scenery in general and am more involved in the meat of the story. Therefore, panic ensues when I think about writing backwards from a screenwriting standpoint. I would look at the physical format of the writing and be too worried about forming the character to the motion and flow in terms of the stage or set.

However, if you look at what Anne said, it makes total sense. It’s like looking at the story from the top down. Taking the drama and emotion of the stage/screen and injecting it into your writing makes perfect sense to me now that I think about it. Those screenwriting techniques Anne talks about and surely Syd Field teaches in his books could be just the salve needed to repair an injured piece of work. I have to give it a try. Lord knows I have plenty of unfinished novels to try it out on!

The Not So Great Gatsby

Just Awful

Just Awful

The audio version of this post appears below. Just click on “play”.

I just watched the most recent version of The Great Gatsby with Leonardo DiCaprio. I know, I know, I’m a little late to the party, but I wasn’t sure I even wanted to see it based on mixed reviews from friends as well as how fast the Hollywood sizzle petered out. I finally gave in having found myself with a couple of hours to kill and the need for a blog post topic. I wasn’t even through the first scene and I felt completely assaulted.

As far as I’m concerned, Hollywood can take wide berth when it comes to interpreting an author’s work. In fact, I look forward to seeing different interpretations of my favorite stories. I know some people take offense when their beloved storylines get messed with, but not me, not at all. If I ever get big enough for someone to actually want to make a movie about one of my works – I seriously would look forward to seeing what they would do with it. Art is art, it should be fluid and pliable and fans of it must be willing to keep an open mind. I’ve only recently been able to do that and it’s made the experience of watching movie adaptations much more enjoyable.

But, this was an abomination of the largest order.

Much Better

Much Better

I feel completely assaulted and have no doubt Fitzgerald is spinning in his little Maryland grave. A whole generation of people will now go around with this ridiculous version of one of the best pieces of American literature ever created. Instead of getting the realistic view that the 1974 version of the film laid out – millions of people are walking around thinking that the twenties rolled out like a decades long P. Diddy white party and Gatsby was some kind of glorified MC. Which leads me to the most insulting aspect of the whole film – the music.

Holy hell what were these people thinking? When you tell a story, especially a period piece, the scene you are setting up needs to be true to the times and nothing is more important than the score in doing that. You want to fuse rap with jazz? Do it in a studio and play it in a club – don’t fuck up a masterpiece of a story.

The film process wasn’t much better. Gatsby wasn’t a graphic novel – I felt like I was watching Sin City; at any moment expecting Marv to come out and kill someone by tying them to the fountain and having a pack of wiener dogs gnaw at their ankles while we got a couple more cheesy shots of NYC in the background up over the top of the Gatsby manse. Which if you watched closely and know how a compass works – would have been Havana, not New York.

If I really wanted to go off on the casting, I could write for hours but let’s just take the most egregious mistake. Who in their right mind EVER thought a young Sam Waterston could be replaced by that hack Maguire? That was the most important role in the whole film. Talk about a miss. I should add, I felt the same way about Mia Farrow in the first film – she sucked.

Anyway, I have to stop myself before this becomes way too long-winded and even angrier than it already is. This was a train wreck and never should have happened. Erasing it from my brain is going to be rough. I thought maybe I would read the book and then watch the original movie with Redford because that might be good therapy, but this movie makes me not even want to re-visit the story. Maybe in a couple of years, I’ll be ready, but right now I need to forget about it.

Ok, ok, I like e-Books

Hard to read in bed

Hard to read in bed

I love books. Duh. Who doesn’t, right? I may even love books more than I do reading. In this house there are thirteen bookcases on three floors. I would say four to five times a day one could find me perusing through one of these bookcases just skimming titles and occasionally opening a book on just about any subject and reading a page or two. Sometimes I’ll sit down and spend an hour reading through subjects that catch my interest. But, most of the time I’ll just while away thinking about the books; trying to imagine where the idea for this or that story sparked from, making up scenes in my head of the writing process of whatever author the book was borne of, whether I know anything about the writer, or not.

The hardest thing for me to do is give up a book. I’ve dragged countless pounds of books from home to home for the last twenty years and maybe I’ve thrown out or given away a quarter of my original collection. And, I’m loath to give away anymore. I actually get anxious sometimes when I’m looking for a certain volume and can’t find it. My mind goes into a panic: did I throw it out? Did I give it away? Did I loan it to someone? Usually, it’s in some box somewhere, but I never rest until the mystery gets solved and if I don’t find what I’m looking for, I jump in the car and beeline it to whatever bookstore is available and buy it. I’m never back to normal until I have whatever I was looking for in my paws.

Thus, I’ve been slow to the e-book thing. I was just never willing to commit. To me it meant another device hanging around, a betrayal to my beloved print books and in general it just seemed like sacrilege. But, then it became time to publish 5 Tales and I couldn’t deny the allure of being able to proofread, edit, design and bring to market a book within a few weeks. And, then of course, I needed to proof it on all the various platforms. In other words, I was going to have to at least read my own book on a device.

Now, my favorite place to read is in bed and when you prefer epic tomes to quickie novels as I do, the books get very big and very cumbersome in bed. At times this has become a sore point with my very easy-going wife, Amy. Of course, it’s hard to remain easy-going when you’re getting smacked in the head three, or fours times a night when your mate is changing positions and getting comfortable.

Easy to read in bed.

Easy to read in bed.

So when 5 Tales came out I first read it on my iPhone. It was a Halleluiah moment. The font size was perfect; the backlighting didn’t annoy Amy anywhere near as much as a bedside reading light and my arms didn’t get tired. Yes, it is somewhat annoying to have to “turn” pages so often but it’s a small price to pay for comfort and readability. It’s also handy because since like most of the world I’m surgically attached to my iPhone, I can read during down time like waiting for the kid at school, waiting in line for coffee, etc.

I have to admit I was short-sighted and stubborn about the whole e-book world and although I still love books and will continue to buy them, it certainly won’t be in the prodigious amounts as I used to, but I’m still buying e-books and thus supporting the literary community and I guess that’s something.

Facebook Advertising Woes – Fix it, Zuckerberg! You’re in the Big Leagues Now

This morning finds me mildly pissed off. I use Facebook to advertise this blog and my book 5 Tales. I use the “boost” feature for both posts and to gather “likes” for my author page. I’m not really sure how effective this marketing program is thus far, but I see the utility in it. For a relatively small amount of money you do get some decent exposure for your stuff. Bringing traffic to your product in any business is the key to getting more sales and Facebook certainly can bring those numbers.

However, I’m already seeing a problem in how they are vetting their ads. At this point, I have had three posts rejected for two reasons. The first was for using “profanity” in my post title. This was the title: “You Bet Your Ass Dickens Would Have Rocked this Age!” It was designed to draw attention to this blog post on The Writer’s Lair. It was rejected for the use of the word “ass”. “Ass” is a pretty benign word, so I was kind of put off by the rejection. I changed the post by not putting in a title and just used the link to the blog without any description. That went through, but I lost my oomph factor on the posting.

Yesterday, I did a blog post entitled “Vampire – Porn”, which you can find here. The content of the article had nothing to do with actual porn. However, I was rejected for – get this: promoting adult toys and/or services. So, I re-posted the article without title again and was still rejected. This pissed me off as I really wanted to boost this particular post because the subject, vampires in literature, is always a hot one and I knew it would draw traffic to the blog.

If Facebook is going to be in the advertising business they need to find a better way to vet ads. I realize they are bigger than the universe and all, but they’re going to lose a lot of $ through this very topical method of scanning and prematurely rejecting material. Glad I sold that stock.